PTEN is one of the most commonly mutated tumor suppressor genes. It is an antagonist for many cellular growth, proliferation and survival processes. When mutated or deleted, it causes cancers of the prostate, breast, colon, and brain. Researchers led by scientists at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center have now identified fundamentally novel regulatory mechanisms of PTEN function. The findings from two related studies are published in the January 12 issue of Cell. [PubMed Abstract]
The first is research by Dr. Xuejen Jiang’s laboratory at Sloan-Kettering Institute which identified a novel component that regulates PTEN. This protein, NEDD4-1, controls protein stability in cells. Researchers found that NEDD4-1 is a key component in eliminating PTEN from cells by adding a molecular tag, ubiquitin, to PTEN causing degradation in the cellular machinery called proteasome. In a mouse model for prostate cancer, the researchers found that areas with aggressive tumor contained low PTEN levels and high NEDD4-1. They concluded that NEDD4-1 could promote cancer development by down-regulating PTEN.
The second study by Dr. Pier Paolo Pandolfi of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and colleagues found that the ubiquitination of PTEN by NEDD4-1 also regulates another important aspect of PTEN, its cellular localization.
PTEN has been found mostly in the cytoplasm but has been known to also be in cell nuclei. While the cytoplasmic function of PTEN is now quite well understood, its nuclear functions have been elusive. Looking at a family with an inherited PTEN mutation that caused them to have the cancer-susceptibility condition, Cowden Syndrome, researchers found that the patients’ colon cancer strikingly lacked nuclear PTEN.
The Pandolfi and Jiang labs showed that the PTEN mutation in these patients prevented the addition of ubiquitin by NEDD4-1, providing a molecular mechanism for the detrimental effect of the mutant PTEN protein. They showed that the single ubiquitin tagging is necessary to import PTEN into the cell nucleus where it is protected from degradation and cancer is initiated.
According to the researchers, the uncovered key role of PTEN degradation provides a new therapeutic strategy. Since ubiquitination has both positive (single tag) and negative (repetitive tagging) effects, a class of drugs, the proteasome inhibitors, that selectively blocks the degrading effects of ubiquitination, should now be studied as possible treatments for cancers with PTEN mutations.
The research was supported by grants from The National Institutes of Health and the American Cancer Society.